Book Review: Flowers for Algernon


Flowers for Algernon
Daniel Keyes
PS3561 K44F 1975 Central Library

Flowers for Algernon revolves around Charlie, a mentally disabled odd job assistant at a bakery who becomes a genius after undergoing neurosurgery. His sudden jump in IQ (from 68 to 200) is a result of an experimental procedure that has proven effective in a lab mouse and Charlie has the dubious honor of being the first human subjected to this same procedure.

His transformation is captured in a series of progress reports that he has to write as a form of therapy and these documents are studied by the scientists involved in the project. His initial jubilance is infectious. The reader rejoices with Charlie as he achieves each milestone and feels that he has scored one for all the little guys in the world.

But Keyes did not mean for this to be a fairy tale but rather a tale of caution. Woven subtly into the narrative is a darker look into how “normal” people treat the mentally disabled who cannot comprehend acts of meanness and thus protect themselves. He warns that with increased intelligence comes heightened self-awareness which may sometimes bring pain, alienation, and dissatisfaction with life, especially when this growth is not accompanied by a commensurate growth in emotional intelligence.

As human beings, we place great value on intelligence and are always looking for ways to increase that. But Keyes hints that there are perhaps other more important things in life that a high IQ cannot provide–the ability to let go of the past, contentment, and ultimately, happiness. Did Charlie come out of this a better person? Who is Algernon? Read this Hugo and Nebula award winning tale and find out for yourself.

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